From appointing a new school director to buying playground equipment, IB World magazine looks at the integral role student councils have within schools
“Giving students a voice encourages a greater sense of community, ownership and investment in the school,” says Shannon McMahon, PYP Coordinator at Stonehill International School, India. “Our PYP student council is one way for them to take action, be involved and in control of their education.”
A student council – where students are elected to represent their peers in school affairs – empowers students and encourages schools to use their feedback to make improvements. “Teachers can’t always know what we are feeling, or what our worries are,” says Trusha Walia, a PYP student at Stonehill. “If we are in charge, we can raise ideas, help each other, and make the school better.”
As well as making a change, students develop leadership and organizational skills, while learning about democracy.
What started as a casual school “club” at KIS International School, Thailand, was transformed into a full student government, complete with a President, Vice President, Secretaries and a constitution.
They meet weekly in the school’s boardroom and liaise between students and the faculty. The council has integrated itself into teacher event committees and has helped coordinate various events.
At the International School of Tanganyika, Tanzania, the council has created opportunities for students to follow their own interests. “My family has a long history of helping others,” says Benjamin Hotchner, IB Diploma Programme student and President of the student council. “Despite my teenage hopes to differ from my parents, I have caught ‘the bug’. As I’m in a position to make a difference in my community, I must.
“I’ve only held my presidency for half a semester, but I feel like we have already accomplished many things,” he adds. “We have hosted an international volleyball competition, introduced hot meals and healthier snacks to the canteen, and standardized our fund-raising system so it’s easier for students to understand. Currently, we are in the processes of putting a student on the board of directors, and making a website for student activities.”
At Stonehill, the council’s impact can be seen everywhere: from the playground to the boardroom. “Students were unhappy with the options available to them during breaks,” says McMahon. “The council listened to their peers and decided to raise some money to purchase new play equipment. They wanted to host a bake sale and, as we’re mindful of food allergies and intolerances, they used it as a platform to promote awareness of these as well.”
And to help influence the future of their school, the council were involved in the appointment of a new director last year. “Members formulated a range of questions that reflected the things they felt were important to their school community,” explains McMahon. “They interviewed three candidates before making their recommendation to the Board of Governors. The candidate they selected was ultimately appointed to the position.”
Inspiring the next generation
KIS has raised over USD$500 for Breast Cancer Research, almost USD$1,000 for the Red Cross’ appeal to combat HIV and over USD$3,500 to support relief efforts in Nepal following the 2015 earthquakes. Through fun activities, including creating their own version of the well-known television talent contest The Voice, the council was able to get the whole school involved in supporting various causes.
As well as making a difference to the lives of many, a student council has clear links with the IB Learner Profile. Students are inspired to be better communicators and more caring.
We are open-minded to new manners of thinking. We accept many different points of view and seek out the most suitable responses to the issues we face. We are using critical thinking skills to analyse and evaluate our problems and decisions. Finally, we take risks by encouraging the student body to try new activities, and we are resilient when facing new challenges. Emily Brugnano, MYP student at KIS
The greatest impact
But it seems that simply responding to everyday student concerns is what has the biggest effect. “The council strives to ensure that the student voice, no matter if they were a sixth grader or in the final year of school, is heard and taken into consideration,” says KIS MYP student Ken Lohatepanont. “From long cafeteria lines to the bells not being loud enough, problems are solved one by one.”
McMahon agrees: “It is often the smaller, less grandiose ideas that have the greatest impact,” she says. For example, Stonehill’s council felt some students argued too much during a popular game called ‘four-square’. Students wrote clearer rules and then shared them during their break time to minimize arguments.
“We try to create an environment that helps children identify issues and take action with tangible results,” she adds.
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